With Stephen Gostkowski done for the season after having to undergo hip surgery, the Patriots turn to two kickers. NFL veteran Mike Nugent, who hasn’t played in over 10 games in a season since 2016, appears to be the primary option. Younghoe Koo, a 25-year-old who hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2017, will compete for Nugent’s role.
Nugent was drafted by the Jets in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He has spent 14 seasons in the league with the Bengals, Jets, Cardinals, Bears, Cowboys, Raiders, and Buccaneers. Mike has kicked a solid 81% on field goals and 96% on extra points. For comparison, Gostkowski has kicked 86% on field goals, and 98% on extra points. While Nugent has occasional issues with range, the Patriots have only attempted two field goals over 40 yards, and none over 50 so far this year. Mike also has only missed one kick in the postseason, though to be fair he hasn’t played in many playoff games. He also has only missed one kick at Gillette, which is a promising sign. During the tryouts, Nugent was able to beat out notable kickers like Kai Forbath and Blair Walsh.
Nugent was born in Centerville, Ohio where he played Kicker and Quarterback for the Elks. As a senior, he converted on five out of seven field goals greater than fifty yards and didn’t miss a single extra point. He played for THE Ohio State University from 2001 to 2004. In that time, he broke or tied 22 school records. Mike was named an All-American multiple times, and even received the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top college placekicker as a senior. He also became the first kicker in school history to earn team MVP honors.
Praise from Patriots
Bill has explained his decision for taking him over the competition in his typical fashion. “Look, through the years I’ve been lucky. We have had a lot of stability. There’s no doubt about that. Steve Gostkowski’s one of the greatest kickers of all time. He’s been great for this franchise. Unfortunately, he’s not available so we’ll move on. Mike[s] done a good job. He has a lot of experience. Obviously, we have confidence in Mike or we wouldn’t have signed him.”
Longtime Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona has also shared his thoughts on his new partner. “Mike’s a complete professional, played in this league a long time, obviously made a lot of great kicks,” Joe Cardona said. “It’s a tremendous help to bring in a veteran, but ultimately we’re starting at ground zero as far as building that chemistry together and him developing into his role on the team. That’s what we’re working on right now.”
He definitely has the skill to contribute to the Patriots throughout this season, but he does have some issues to work out. Luckily, Belichick has also formed a backup plan in Younghoe Koo.
Koo was born in Seoul, South Korea and actually played soccer growing up. He attended sixth grade in the United States after moving to New Jersey. There Koo started his football career at Ridgewood High School. He was named team MVP his senior season, contributing on both special teams and defense after also snatching six interceptions. After his interesting high school career, he joined the Georgia Southern Eagles, where he played for four years. He earned first-team all-conference honors in his final season, during which he missed only one field goal. Koo was also named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, the same award Nugent won years earlier.
Koo signed with the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He surprisingly won the starting job over kicker Josh Lambo following the conclusion of an intense preseason competition. This also made Koo the fourth player in NFL history to be from South Korea. He started off his NFL career poorly, as Koo’s game-tying 44-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds of the game was blocked as the game neared its conclusion. He recovered after missing another field goal in week two, converting all of his kicks over the next two weeks.
But that didn’t matter, as the Chargers waived him after just four games. Many claim the front office used him as a scapegoat, and the decision kept him out of football until early 2019, when he moved to the AAF’s Atlanta Legends. He scored the first points of AAF history through a 38-yard field goal. He was spectacular throughout the short history of the league, having been 14 for 14 on field goals.
The recent success in the AAF and the apparent honing of raw talent was enough for Belichick to give him a chance on the practice squad. While players on the practice squad are constantly being filtered in and out, it definitely means Koo has a shot at the job.
The Future of Patriots Kickers
When Gostkowski returns at the start of the 2020-2021 season, he may find his once solid spot in jeopardy. His recent struggles were very troubling, but it also could’ve been in part due to the injury. Nugent could definitely have a strong showing, but probably won’t be strong enough for the Pats to turn their back on Gostkowski. Younghoe, on the other hand, may actually have a better chance. If Koo can show even more of the same success we’ve seen so far in his relatively short career, then the young man definitely has a shot. Who knows, he could become the next longtime Pats kicker. This battle could be even more interesting than the punting competition which crowned Jake Bailey the victor. But with everything said, Gostkowski’s injury has lead to a lot of uncertainty as well as new possibilities for kickers on the Patriots.